To be successful at anything requires a plan. That includes eating right. Without a meal plan, it’s easy to fall into the take-out trap or cereal-for-dinner routine. Use the weekend to your advantage to plan your meals for the whole week. There’s no one right way to strategize and organize, but our 3-step plan is a great place to start. So, grab a pencil and paper and a mug of Matcha green tea and get planning!
1. Map out your meals for the week (Friday)
If you’re new to meal planning, you might want to start small by just planning out one type of meal for the week, such as breakfast. Once you master it, add another meal to the plan. We recommend setting aside 10 minutes on Friday afternoon or evening to map out the coming week. When planning your meals, consider the following:
- Look at your social calendar. Do you have book club on Monday night? Are you meeting friends for happy hour after work on Thursday? You can subtract those meals from the weekly meal plan so you know how many meals you really need to make.
- What kind of meals do you enjoy eating? In cooler weather, we tend toward soups, stews, chili and anything that warms us up. If this is the case for you, then break out the slow-cooker or consider sheet-pan meals. Also, consider what foods are in season and use one or two of them as the base for your meal. In autumn and winter, foods like butternut squash and Brussels sprouts can take a starring role in your recipes.
- Spend a little time each week going through your recipes or searching new ones online or in magazines. Collect them all in one notebook for easy access. Recipes can be as easy or complicated as you like, based on your cooking level and preferences. Know your cooking strengths and how much time you have to set aside for cooking.
- Some people love the idea of theme nights—Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Breakfast for Dinner, Pasta Night, leftovers (or as we call it – cleaning out the fridge). Sticking to a theme can make coming up with meals so much simpler.
- Lastly, look through your pantry, freezer and refrigerator for some inspiration. Is there some baby bok choy in the produce drawer just waiting to be used up? Great, then make a stir-fry. How about that can of black beans in the pantry and the chicken thighs in the freezer? Sounds like ingredients for Taco Tuesday!
2. Go Shopping (Saturday)!
Rule number one when shopping—always have a list! That will reduce the chance of impulse buying or wandering aimlessly around the market looking for some inspiration. Been there, done that! Make your list based on the recipes you’ve chosen for the week. And go through your spice and seasoning drawer to purchase or replace any old spices, except for salt and pepper (if your spices are over one year old, it’s time to replace them). Highly seasoned food just tastes better! With your list in hand, it’s time to go shopping at the farmers’ market or your local grocery store, or both. If you’re pressed for time, shop in the morning before the rush. In-store traffic is higher in the afternoon and early evening.
Also, make sure to go through your cabinet full of containers to make sure you have enough food storage for the week. You might want to consider purchasing a new set of stackable containers.
3. Prep Time (Sunday)
Part of meal prep is deciding if you want to make everything for the whole week, prep some of the meals, or just chop up veggies and organize ingredients to be cooked fresh on the night you want a particular recipe. Many people swear by getting it all done on Sunday so all you must do each night is remove the food from the refrigerator and reheat. It will take a little more time out of your Sunday, but you’ll spend less time in the kitchen the rest of your week. Here are some of our best prep tips:
- Consider cooking double batches of recipes and freezing half, which you can then take out in a few weeks and reheat.
- Sheet-pan meals are ideal if you want little to no clean-up. Just line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and load it up with your veggies and protein. Season and bake in the oven until done. When cool, load it into containers and recycle the foil. No clean-up!
- One-pot meals are another great way to cook with little clean-up. Sauté your veggies in some avocado oil, add ½ cup brown rice or quinoa and chopped chicken (or other protein), broth, and seasonings, cover with a lid and simmer until done.
- Use your slow-cooker to make soups, chili or stews. You can load up the slow-cooker in the morning before you leave and set it to cook on LOW for 8-10 hours. When you get home, all you have to do is serve. Make extra so leftovers can be enjoyed for days to come.
Sample Meal Plan
Breakfast: frittata (for Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and smoothie (Tuesday, Thursday)
Lunch: We love to have last night’s dinner for lunch. It makes decision-making a breeze!
- Meatless Monday—vegetarian chili
- Taco Tuesday—chicken, black beans, shredded lettuce, salsa, guacamole/avocado and mini corn tortillas
- Breakfast-for-Dinner Wednesday—scrambled eggs topped with salsa, high-protein pancakes and fruit
- Crock-pot Thursday—simmer chicken thighs with 1 cup frozen organic corn, 1 can (BPA-free) black beans, 1 container fresh salsa, cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika and broth. Cook on LOW for 8-10 hours, then shred chicken and mix everything together. Top with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream.
- Pizza Friday—buy a store-bought whole grain crust or make your own crust and top with marinara or homemade pesto, parmesan cheese and whatever veggies you have on hand. Bake until cheese is melted and crust is crunchy.
Snacks (optional): prepare snack-size baggies with mixed nuts or make containers of chopped veggies and hummus.
Once you get the hang of it, using your weekend to plan and prep your meals for the week will save you time, money and stress. That means more time to enjoy your meals and the company of others.
Looking to expand your nutrition knowledge and learn how to translate that information into actionable lifestyle changes for clients and patients? Learn more with ACE’s Fitness Nutrition Specialist program.